Confessions of an Indian ‘Hawk’-Part 1

Or what is wrong with Pakistan? 

At the outset, let me confess that I am not a strategic analyst. I leave that rather arduous task to better trained colleagues within the Indian National Interest platform as well as the hordes of analysts available on more mainstream publications. I write this post more as an aam aadmi—even though I dislike how this term has been appropriated by certain political formations. So now we are done with this mea culpa, let’s move on to more important things.

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An idea which dominates the recent peacenik/liberal conversations is that Pakistan is much more interested in peace than India is. The Outlook magazine perfectly captured this sentiment through a recent cover while across the border, strategic analyst Ezaj Haider argues thusly,

Firstly, unlike Pakistan, there is no real political consensus in India on normalising with Pakistan. Regardless of Pakistan’s concessions, and Pakistan has conceded almost everything India has demanded over the years — trade, investment, MFN without reference to disputes — India demands, though it won’t say so for obvious reasons, unconditional capitulation from Pakistan. [Link]

This is about as nonsensical as it gets. At the minimum, Haider is unaware that Pakistan has still not granted India the MFN status despite the alleged domestic political consensus.

If anything, the only consensus of such nature exists in India across governments of diametrically opposite political persuasions. A little history lesson would be in order here.  In the year 1999, Atal Bihari Vajpayee heading a ‘Right-wing’ government agreed to travel to Pakistan resulting in the famous Lahore summit. There was much talk of leaving the past behind and even a Declaration was signed.  It is also important to underline that Vajpayee agreed to the peace process with Pakistan despite opposition from his own party and the more virulent sections of the larger Sangh parivar. And what was his reward?: The Kargil war. Even Pakistanis no longer pretend that Kargil was anything but a war thrust upon India. Despite immense domestic pressure, Vajpayee did not expand the war beyond Kargil even though he had every right to do so (In fact, this is exactly what India had done in 1965 in response to Operation Grand Slam ) Perhaps, if you live in the world Ejaz Haider inhabits, this was war-mongering on India’s part and it should have let Pakistan ’peacefully’ occupy Kargil.

Undeterred, Prime Minister Vajpayee tried again in 2001 by staging the Agra summit which unfortunately was a major fiasco. Well, not before providing a televised opportunity for General Musharraf to publicly scold some of India’s most prominent editors.

And then in December 2001, the Indian Parliament attack was attacked. An audacious assault at the very heart of India’s democracy was staged by Pakistan backed terrorists whose goal was to wipe out the entire political leadership.  No government in the world—and I repeat no government—could have tolerated an attack of this nature and even then India did not go to war.

And do you see a pattern emerging here: Talking peace but waging war?

In the interest of space, I will not recount the multiple attempts Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has made for a peaceful resolution with Pakistan. Suffice to say that even after the dastardly Mumbai attacks, Dr. Singh agreed to delink action on terrorism from the composite peace talks during the infamous Sharm El Sheikh meeting. Sure, he encountered domestic opposition but is that not understandable especially since the Mumbai attack was planned and executed directly by Pakistan?   And despite all the roadblocks, Dr. Singh has continued to press Pakistan for peace.  One may blame Prime Minister Singh for wishful thinking but surely no one can doubt his sincerity or the genuine desire for peace. Dr. Singh may be weakened domestically as Haider gleefully implies but he has displayed nerves of steel when it comes to issues he is genuinely invested in: Nuclear deal and the FDI in retail are two issues which immediately come to mind. Prime Minister Singh clearly views Pakistan as his legacy issue and is prepared to walk the proverbial extra mile for peace.  If Dr. Singh has not been able to forge a lasting peace with Pakistan it is not because of his alleged weakness or domestic opposition but because there is no genuine reciprocity from Pakistan. Let no one fool you otherwise least of all Ejaz Haider.

Even more importantly, if there is a genuine Pakistani desire for peace with India, why don’t we see its effects on the ground? Perhaps, Pakistan cannot afford to surrender Dawood Ibrahim to India but surely it escapes understanding why in a country so desirous of peace he is sheltered and venerated? Or take the ongoing prosecutions— and I use this word in its broadest formulation—for the Mumbai attacks. What has been the progress there? Zero. Nada. Zilch. As even a self-confessed Indian peacenik recently admitted.

I am honestly at loss here: I am told repeatedly—and asked to believe—that Pakistan cannot wait to give India a giant bear hug but somehow it still insists on protecting those who have attacked India? Can someone solve this puzzle for me?

And if you really want to shut up the BJP and associated fringe groups, here’s what you need to do.   Demonstrate your commitment to peace by at least depriving Hafiz Saeed of his liberty.  You can’t even do that and you are claiming a domestic political consensus for peace?!!

But here the old good-cop, bad-cop returns. We can’t act against the planners of Mumbai because, you see, the army won’t let us. So what exactly are you good for? Making peace overtures on twitter? No. Thank you.

Pakistan’s perfidy is hardly limited to India. It has been well documented that Pakistan continues to protect the ‘Good Taliban’—despite horrible terror attacks within Pakistan itself. If the Pakistani establishment has no qualms about protecting domestic terrorists, what is the likelihood it genuinely desires to punish those who have staged attacks in India with its open encouragement and material support?

This is an argument you will rarely hear among the peacenik circles. Because that will give the game away. The India-Pakistan peace process is propped up by little more than hope unencumbered by any notions of history or geo-political thought. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is essentially a shell game.

So forgive me, if I don’t buy this ‘genuine Pakistani’ desire for nonsense rhetoric. And unless you can solve the above conundrum, I will continue to remain very skeptical.

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The second interesting idea we often hear about is Track II diplomacy. The argument is fairly simple: Indians and Pakistanis have limited interactions with each other and therefore their views are colored by history and what their respective politicians and the media have told them. Only if the citizens of these two countries realized their shared heritage, the hatred would gradually disappear and they would force their respective government on the path of reconciliation and peace. There is also a more subtle subtext here: That it is all the fault of the darned politicians and the people desire peace.

Superficially at least this makes sense. Despite Pakistan’s attempts to pretend that it evolved directly from the Arabic civilization, India and Pakistan do have common cultural roots. How could it be otherwise when they belonged to the same civilization for at least a millennia? And personally speaking, If Ghulam Ali saheb was to perform in New Delhi, I would have no problems in attending his concert and cheering for the maestro. And I am not interested in any reciprocity either. If Pakistan is not interested in hosting India’s cultural ambassadors then the loss is entirely theirs.

So what is the catch here? Despite its protestations to the contrary, the peacenik/liberal establishment in India is a powerful entity and dominates the national political conversations. (This has both positive and negative effects but that is a debate for another day.) The same is not true for Pakistan where liberals remain a scared and scattered bunch who have little influence outside social media and op-ed columns in the English media. Forget India, their inability to influence Pakistani domestic policies have been repeatedly demonstrated. The whole clusterfark over reforming the blasphemy laws is merely a recent example.

As already conceded it doesn’t mean that there is anything specifically wrong with Track II diplomacy or encouraging more visits of Pakistani artists to India. If people feel good lighting candles at the Wagah-Attari  border, more power to them. However, it is entirely wooly-headed to believe that these gestures can actually influence the Pakistani establishment and its powerful army in giving up its inherently anti-India posturing. So those who start worrying that the peace process has come ‘unstuck’ because of protests organized by fringe groups after particularly egregious outrages should relax.  By all means practice jadu ki jhappi in Jaipur or Lahore but please don’t pretend that the Pakistan’s liberals can actually influence its India policy. And if they can, where is the evidence?

And if the past is any indicator, then democracy makes little difference either. The Kashmiri militancy was encouraged in the era of Benazir Bhutto while Kargil happened while Nawaz Sharif was busy playing ‘dazzling’ cover drives in Lahore’s Bagh-I-Jinnah. The culprit here is the powerful military-jihadi complex and it is unlikely to be persuaded by peaceniks waving the White flag. And by promising a false dawn, the peaceniks in both India and Pakistan unwittingly play directly in the hands of the military-jihadi complex and limit India’s strategic options in the name of preventing war. Indeed, Pakistani liberals have little faith in their own army when it comes to multiple domestic and international issues but some how expect India to trust Rawalpindi!

Simply put, what is wrong with Track II diplomacy is not the idea itself but the argument that it actually amounts to anything. Or that it will make any difference in the foreseeable future.  And we will all be dead in the long term.

(To be continued)

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